The market town of St. Neots stands proudly on the River Great Ouse at what is often described as the Crossroads of East Anglia - the A1 and A428 (formerly A45) trunk roads. Its location on the main rail route from London to Edinburgh has led to rapid residential growth and it now has a population of over 27,000. St. Neots is the largest town in Cambridgeshire (as distinct from the cities of Cambridge and Peterborough) with a fast rail service to London's King's Cross and flourishing light industrial estates alongside the railway station and the A1.
There can be few places able to offer such a variety of features to both residents and visitors as the pretty market town of St. Neots, which now benefits from a major scheme of environmental improvements in the Market Square, the installation of closed circuit television monitoring, a Conservation Area Partnership Scheme and a Town Centre Management Initiative.
Although it boasts an impressive past, with tales of Benedictine monks, the Civil War, the Eynesbury Giant and an exciting coaching and river history, the fast-expanding town of today provides excellent up-to-date facilities and events in a stunning location on the banks of the River Great Ouse.
If the past was colourful, the future looks bright. Local people are working hard to provide a variety of new additions and features which will put the town firmly on the map.
Today St. Neots extends south to Eaton Ford and to include the former village of Eynesbury and across the River Great Ouse to take in Eaton Socon, which were once part of Bedfordshire. Evidence suggests that Eynesbury was first settled in the Bronze Age but it began to flourish in the 10th Century when Earl Alfric founded a small monastery and enshrined the 'miracle working' bones of St. Neot in the monastery church. A century later, the monastery was re-established as a Benedictine Priory and the settlement was known as Neotsbury. The Priory was a cell of the Great Abbey of Bec in Normandy - one of the greatest seats of learning and culture in Europe.
The Priory buildings were sited near the river and the town flourished as new streets were added and markets and fairs introduced. The river, which was navigable to the sea, brought trade to St. Neots and the first bridge, consisting of 73 timber arches, was built in 1180.
The Priory was finally closed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and its buildings demolished. The Town grew in the 17th Century and the 'new' stone bridge was the site of a battle between the Royalists and the Roundheads in 1648, an event commemorated by a festival week-end in July 1998. The era of the stagecoach and the building of the railway safeguarded the town's future but since the 1960s there has been a dramatic increase in population.
Despite the loss of its Priory, St. Neots still retains several historic features including a bustling market square, a variety of ancient churches and attractive parks and common land in superb riverside settings. St. Neots Church, built in the 15th Century Perpendicular style has a 130 feet high tower that is a major local landmark.
The houses in and around the large market square date from the 18th Century and it is worth following the Town Trail to view Brook House and the 16th Century secular building restored by Freemans, the jewellers.
True to its position on the Old Great North Road, the town still has many old inns and hostelries. The White Horse in Eaton Socon, which dates back to the 13th Century, was a Royal Mail staging post and is mentioned by Charles Dickens in 'Nicholas Nickleby'. Another important coaching inn, The Cross Keys, still retains much of the mellow 18th Century brick facade but the main buildings and the courtyard have been redeveloped as a shopping mews.
The town's increased shopping needs have been met by a number of new developments, including 'out of town' supermarkets. Some of the recent developments link the Market Square with shops, the library, the Priory Centre, Council offices and car parking, all situated off Priory Lane.
St. Neots is well provided with open space and recreational facilities and the River Great Ouse and Riverside Park are valued by residents and visitors alike. People from a wide area make their way to the Park on fine summer days to boat and fish, picnic and play, listen to a band concert or simply enjoy the natural beauty.
Modern St. Neots offers good community facilities that include indoor swimming pool, a busy Thursday market, a sports centre, bowling centres (green and ten pin) and the focal point for social activity and entertainment, the Priory Centre. Built on the site of the old Priory, the Centre has facilities for up to 400 people attending such diverse functions as indoor markets, business seminars, theatre productions and discos. It is also a popular venue for a number of annual events including a weekend Folk Festival in May and a carnival in August. The Local Regatta is another event which attracts visitors from a wide area.
Part of the Old Courthouse in New Street is occupied by St. Neots Museum and the Tourist Information Centre and visitors may find a visit to the Victorian cells a strangely rewarding experience.